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Obituaries

Jay Chiat, 70; Groundbreaking L.A. Ad Man

April 24, 2002|ABIGAIL GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jay Chiat, the advertising executive whose firm created the drum-beating Energizer bunny and introduced Apple as the "computer for the rest of us," died of prostate cancer early Tuesday at his Venice beach home. He was 70.

Chiat was credited with making Los Angeles an advertising powerhouse in the 1980s and 1990s with a new "West Coast style" of subtle logos and strong messages.

In one of his firm's most famous campaigns, Chiat/Day emblazoned billboards in Los Angeles and 10 other cities during the 1984 Olympic Games with awe-inspiring pictures of famous athletes such as Carl Lewis, Joan Benoit and John McEnroe. The only sales pitch was oblique: just a small Nike swoosh in one corner.

Another Chiat/Day ad, one of the most studied in American marketing, unveiled the Apple Macintosh during the 1984 Super Bowl. The commercial featured a woman smashing through a giant image of Big Brother--but no picture of the new machine or description of its capabilities.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Friday April 26, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Chiat obituary--An obituary of Jay Chiat in Wednesday's California section said that the advertising agency Chiat/Day created the Energizer Bunny campaign. Actually, the Chicago office of DDB Needham Worldwide created the Energizer Bunny. Chiat/Day expanded on that idea, using the bunny to roam freely into other commercials.

"You have an individual who was remarkably creative and had a unique way of establishing an identity for products," said David Stewart, a professor of marketing and dean of faculty at the Marshall School of Business at USC. "He was a definer of a particular style within the industry, a West Coast style with a strong personality At this moment, there is no one who is doing it as well."

Chiat's creativity, however, often conflicted with the realities of running his agency. Even in the notoriously volatile world of advertising, Chiat/Day stood out for its ability to alienate clients, many of whom left the firm. He also made poor business decisions, loading the agency with debt in a bid to broaden its reach.

By the time Chiat sold the agency in 1995 to Omnicom Group Inc., which merged the agency into its TBWA Advertising unit, Chiat/Day employed 850 people but was heavily encumbered and no longer working with Nike, Apple or American Express Co.

Chiat was born in the Bronx and grew up in New Jersey, where he attended Rutgers University. A stint in the Air Force brought him to California, where he began as a copy writer for an agency in Orange County in the 1950s.

He joined forces with writer Guy Day in 1968, creating the agency that bears his name. Once there, Chiat discovered what might have been his greatest talent: leading.

"I'm the spiritual creative director," Chiat told The Times in 1985. "[I create] the right environment for creativity."

An art and design aficionado, Chiat created environments that got almost as much press as he did. Chiat had architect Frank Gehry design Chiat/Day's former headquarters in Venice, most notable for the enormous pair of binoculars that serve as the agency's entrance.

IBM had pioneered the "virtual office" of temporary spaces, with no permanent offices; Chiat took it one step further. Employees had lockers in which to store personal items and their choice of places to sit.

Designed, one Chiat employee said, to "stir the creative juices," the new office invited workers who came in to the headquarters to shoot pool, beat a punching bag, hang out in the "clubhouse" meeting area or get a massage.

Doing work meant plugging in a laptop computer and phone and setting up shop for the day in a wild surrounding of comfortable furniture and changeable spaces.

"I'm a frustrated architect," Chiat told a Times reporter in 1999. "I have a need to build environments because I believe an environment impacts the quality of work and the kind of people you can attract."

Known for being fiercely hard-driving and opinionated, Chiat nonetheless had egalitarian ideals--all aimed at stoking the creativity he prized.

When he ran the firm, his seemingly endless demands on employees caused some to dub it "Chiat/Day & Night." Yet during the summers, employees were allowed to take every other Friday off. On the last Friday of the month, Chiat held a lunch or party for everyone from receptionists to top executives.

Lee Clow, the chairman and worldwide creative director for TBWA/Worldwide and TBWA/Chiat/Day who called Chiat his teacher, told The Times several years ago that Chiat was "the original 'It's not good enough' guy."

Stories of the egos at the agency telling clients to do campaigns their way or find another agency was a charge Chiat said years later was overblown. Still, Chiat built his office as a democracy of space, with no offices and no executive washrooms.

After leaving the agency, Chiat remained eager to participate in the next big thing. In 1998, he signed on for a brief stint running Screaming Media, to jump-start the content provider he invested in along with former American Express chief executive Jim Robinson. He held the title of chairman emeritus when he died.

"He taught us to be brave and smart and love the work," Clow said in a statement. "His name as well as his passion will always be part of this agency. And the best thing we can do to honor his memory is to every day try and do something great...."

Chiat is survived by his wife, Edwina von Gal, three children and 10 grandchildren.

A family representative said that Chiat's remains will be cremated and that plans for a private memorial service are still being made.

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